Battle of Northampton
10th July 1460
Name: Battle of Northampton
Date: 10 July 1460
War period: Wars of the Roses
Start time and duration: 2pm and lasting for around 30 minutes
Outcome: Yorkist victory
Armies and losses: Yorkist numbering 10-15,000 men under Earl of Warwick; Lancastrian force of 6-8,000 men under Duke of Buckingham. Losses: 3,000+, mostly Lancastrians killed in the rout
Location: securely located between the village of Hardingstone and the river Nene and fought across open field
Map details: Grid reference: SP 75868 58871 (475868, 258871); OS Explorer map 207 and 223; OS Lanranger map 152
The Lancastrian army defeated in their fortified camp and King Henry VI captured after one of their commanders turned coat to the Yorkists during the battle.
After the collapse of their army at Ludford Bridge in October 1459 the Yorkist leaders dispersed: York had fled to Ireland, and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick to Calais. In their absence a Bill of Attainder was passed by Henry VI against the principal Yorkist leaders. At the end of June 1460, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick returned to England with their supporters. Gathering forces as they went, they approached London where, in early July, they were joined by other Yorkist nobles and troops. Leaving a small force under Salisbury to keep watch over the Tower of London, which remained in Lancastrian hands, the Yorkists set off to confront the King before he had time to muster his full strength.
The King was at Coventry, but on hearing of the Yorkist advance Henry moved his court from Coventry to Northampton. Here his army encamped in the fields south of the town, between Delapre Abbey and the village of Hardingstone. The encampment was an attempt to build an artillery fortification such as the French used at Castillion in 1453 and rely upon gunpowder rather than the longbow to provide victory. On the morning of 10th July the Yorkists arrived and, when attempts at negotiation led by the Archbishop of Canterbury failed, then battle became inevitable.
The battle opened with a skirmish probably between both sides’ light horse or “scourers”. The Lancastrians led by “Lord Greriffin” were defeated by the Yorkist horse, led by Lord John Scrope of Bolton, who went on to set fire to the town.
The Battle of Northampton, despite large armies on both sides and the Lancastrians holding a strong defensive position, appears to have been exceptionally short. This was due in large part to the treacherous behaviour of Sir Edmund Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin, and the fact that, for whatever reason, the Lancastrian guns failed to fire effectively. The battle is noted not only for the first widespread attempted use of artillery (a Yorkist cannonball, the oldest discovered in England, has been found on the site) but also for the battlefield excommunication of the Lancastrian Army by the Papal Legate.
The battle was an important victory for the Yorkists. Many Lancastrian leaders, including the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Egremont, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and Viscount Beaumont were killed. Shortly afterwards the Duke of York returned to England and, in October, was bestowed the right of succession by Henry VI in an Act of Settlement. Queen Margaret refused to accept an agreement that disinherited her son and thus the Civil War inevitably continued.
The action is reasonably well located, within the former landscape park of Delapre Abbey, to the south of the medieval town of Northampton. The battle was observed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Papal Legate from the site of the Eleanor Cross. Today this view is obscured by woodland, but an equally fine view of the area can be obtained from behind the 13th tee on the golf course, just inside the Park boundary. Then the land was mainly open arable field.
Today about half of the site is now a golf course, but there has been little other development, apart from the buildings and car park related to the golf course which lie on the south eastern part of the battlefield. The whole area has been completely enveloped by the town in the 20th century, with housing development to the north and west, industry to the east and the A45 Northampton bypass running very close to the battlefield along its southern edge.
The remains of the open field system, in use at the time of the battle, survived as ridge and furrow earthworks into the 20th century and is still present over significant parts of the battlefield, and can be seen on the fairways of the golf course although other features have been destroyed by the landscaping involved in building the course, most notable the bund that bisects the location. The battlefield now has Registered status and is subject to a Conservation Management Plan prepared by Northampton Borough Council. However, there are still threats to its integrity.
Delapre Park is open to the public and access is possible by footpath across the battlefield, including the golf course, provided recognised footpaths are observed. A battlefield room with interactive displays is located in the Delapre Abbey visitor attraction.
- Historic England Battlefields Register CLICK HERE
- Historic England battlefield report for Battle of Northampton 1460